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Bug (2007)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Friedkin's Best Work In Years--Too Bad Lionsgate Doesn't Want You To Know"
5 stars

So if you were running a movie studio and you had a film that was an adaptation of an acclaimed off-Broadway play, marked a significant artistic comeback for a once-powerful filmmaker and featured a high-profile and popular actress in one of the most intense and fearless performances of her entire career, how would you go about trying to sell such a thing to audiences? My guess is that if you had any faith in the film and anything resembling common sense, you would probably want to highlight those factors while promoting it and release it in a way that would allow the word of mouth to spread via reviews and audience reactions. Alas, this is not the approach that Lionsgate has chosen to take with “Bug.”

Instead of underlining the fact that it is an intense psychological drama, that is the best film that William Friedkin has directed in over two decades and that it contain a performance from Ashley Judd that single-handedly makes up for all of those women-in-jeopardy klunkers and deadly romantic comedies that she has been frittering away her talents on over the last few years, the studio has instead decided to dump it on a weekend when everyone’s attention is going to be focused on “Pirates of the Caribbean 3" and has cynically given it an utterly misleading ad campaign that tries to pass it off as another helping of torture porn along the lines of their house brands “Saw” and “Hostel” in an effort to lure gorehounds into the theater for a quick payoff and are even offering up a preview of the first five minutes of “Hostel Part II” as an added lure for that particular demographic. (If this tactic succeeds, will they decide to next re-release Sarah Polley’s Alzheimer’s drama “Away From Her” with a new campaign suggesting that it is actually a zombie movie?) Of course, reviews might allow people to realize what it is and what it isn’t and even in that regard, Lionsgate seems to be going out of their way to sabotage things–in what I assume is a ham-fisted effort to prevent word of the true nature of the film from getting out early on that Internet, they took the bizarre step of either not allowing online press to screen it until the night before its opening or by barring them from screening it altogether, even though the film has been a fixture on the festival circuit over the last year.

Even if “Bug” were a bad film, it wouldn’t deserve such a deceptive ad campaign, one that seems designed specifically to lure in the very audiences that will hate it the most–teens in the mood for blood and guts instead of the sight of emotionally damaged people spiraling out of control in a seedy motel room–while putting off the kind of serious-minded moviegoer who might actually want to see an adult-oriented film this weekend instead of pirates or ogres. The sad part is that “Bug” is anything but a bad film–it is a powerful and gripping drama about paranoia run amok that is closer in tone to Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” than an ordinary slasher flick and contains some of the most emotionally intense scenes to be put before a camera in a long time.

Adapted by Tracy Letts from his play, which rocked the theater world when it appeared a few years ago, “Bug” opens with a tense sequence involving a woman in a run-down motel room being harassed by a constantly ringing phone. This is Agnes (Ashley Judd) and from our very first glimpse of her, we can instantly tell that she is a woman who has undergone more than her share of hardships in life and has not come out of them for the better. Her entire existence, in fact, appears to consist of working a few hours as a waitress in a local honky tonk and spending the rest of her time holed up in her fleabag room drinking and drugging herself in an effort to deaden the memories of the child that she lost a decade earlier and to forget the fact that her violent husband, Goss (Harry Connick Jr.), is due to be released from prison before too long. One fateful night, fellow waitress R.C. (Lynn Collins) comes by for a drink or twelves and brings along Peter (Michael Shannon), a strange guy that she met in the bar that night. Although outwardly pleasant and soft-spoken, Peter has a kind of off-kilter vibe to him that suggests that not all of his parts may be in working order–when he responds to a joking comment by assuring Agnes that “I’m not an axe murderer,” you get the sense that this is something that this is a phrase that he has had to utter more than once in his lifetime. Nevertheless, Agnes takes a shine to Peter and when she learns that he has nowhere to go, she takes him into her room and eventually into her bed.

After the first (and perhaps only) time that they make love, Peter wakes up in the middle of the night complaining of bug bites and claiming that there are tiny aphids all over the room. Agnes doesn’t see any of them, of course, but he is so insistent that the room is infested that she begins seeing them as well. Before long, Peter begins spinning elaborate conspiracy theories that suggest that he was a Gulf War vet who was part of a top-secret medical test project and that the bugs he is seeing are a result of those experiments. What he is saying is patently absurd–imagine a Lyndon LaRouche pamphlet without the lucid thought–and anyone in their right mind would find it in their best interest to get as far away from him as humanly possible. Alas, Agnes does not fall into that category–she is perfectly happy to buy into someone else’s paranoid delusions in order to keep her mind off of her own reality–and the two, who have all but barricaded themselves in their now foil-lined room, fall into a vicious circle in which every aspect of their lives becomes fodder for their dark fantasies and anyone trying to get them to think rationally–such as Goss, R.C. or the mysterious Dr. Sweet (Brian F. O’Byrne), who claims to be Peter’s doctor–is considered an enemy that needs to be dealt with.

“Bug” contains the kind of material that requires a no-holds-barred approach if it is to have any chance of succeeding–if you ever get the sense for even a second that you are watching a couple of actors going through their paces instead of two damaged souls slipping inexorably into the abyss before your eyes, the entire spell will be broken and the material will simply come across as lurid nonsense. In Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon, “Bug” has found the perfect actors for the material at hand and they deliver the kind of pedal-to-the-metal performances that will leave you slack-jawed with awe. As Agnes, Judd starts off by giving us a character that seems not unlike the resilient women she played in such films as “Ruby in Paradise” and “Come Early Morning”–the shock comes from the fact that Agnes has none of the inner strength of those characters and allows herself to be felled by her addiction to the world that Peter has developed for her. Throughout the film, Judd is required to say and do things that most actresses would ordinarily shy away from but she tackles those challenges with a fearlessness that is amazing to watch–not since her stunning work in the little-seen “A Normal Life” (which would make for an interesting companion film to “Bug”) has she taken the kind of risks that she has here and the result is one of the best bits of acting that she has ever done. Faced with the idea of acting opposite a performance likes hers, most actors might have folded under the pressure but Michael Shannon (probably best-known as the wild-eyed Marine rescuer from “World Trade Center”) more than holds his own against her. Sure, he is great with the scenery-chewing bits where he goes completely around the bend (such as a grisly bit of self-inflicted dental surgery) but in a way, that is the easy part of a character like this–what is much harder is to make the character sympathetic enough so that we can believe that Agnes would stick with him and Shannon manages to find and effectively deploy that human element as well.

As I mentioned earlier, “Bug” was directed by William Friedkin and even though I am not as willing to write off his post-“Exorcist” filmography as others are–I think that “Sorcerer,” “Cruising” are as strong as anything that he has ever done and recent works like “Rules of Engagement” and “The Hunted” have had their share of virtuoso moments as well–I will say that this is by far his most powerful and memorable work since 1985's “To Live and Die In L.A.” Unlike other filmmakers, who might have been tempted to open up the story in an effort to make it seem more cinematic, Friedkin goes the other way by presenting the material in the most claustrophobic manner possible–lots of sweaty close-ups and long takes–in order to help us share in the delusional world of Peter and Agnes. Adding to the paranoid atmosphere is the stunning and elaborate sound design in which even the most ordinary sounds–the batting of a ceiling fan or the ribbons attached to an air conditioner–carry menacing overtones. From the sedate opening scenes to the jaw-dropping final images, this is virtuoso filmmaking and it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that while Friedkin’s popularity may have dimmed over the years, his talent behind the camera certainly hasn’t.

In the end, “Bug” is a horror film after all, I suppose, but definitely not the kind that Lionsgate clearly wants you to think it is. Instead of relying on visceral shocks to jolt viewers (outside of one memorably grisly bit of self-inflicted dental surgery), it prefers to wig them by getting under the skin, not unlike the aphids that are supposedly attacking the main characters, and gradually making them more and more uncomfortable as events progress towards their heartbreakingly inevitable conclusion. While the results may not satisfy the audience that is being marketed towards, those who are in the mood for the kind of genuinely unnerving moviegoing experience that “Bug” presents so sensationally will find it to be the kind of film that is, whether you like it or not, impossible to simply shrug off.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15017&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/25/07 00:06:43
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2006 Fantastic Fest series, click here.

User Comments

4/04/13 David Hollingsworth Very underrated, and disturbing! 5 stars
11/03/09 avrille alinaalbum com 2 stars
5/25/09 mr.mike It was dreadful. 2 stars
9/02/08 Shaun Wallner This one was kinda boring. 2 stars
7/10/08 drdanny Entomo-Clausto-riffic! 4 stars
11/21/07 mike really dumb and u can only laugh at the stupidity in the end. very bad movie 1 stars
11/17/07 Jeff Anderson Like THE EXORCIST it's nerve-racking, but it's tense. Judd & esp. Shannon are fantastic! 4 stars
10/24/07 Lynn overacting big time!!!!!! 1 stars
10/07/07 WeeToddDidd Blah! Only worth it to see Ashley show hes stuff 2 stars
10/01/07 Angelica Message of all AJ movies could be wholly conveyed just by"Men Suck" tattooed on her forhead 1 stars
9/23/07 Jason Ashley Judd is naked alot...enough said!! Her nudity is the only thing worth wild in this. 2 stars
8/06/07 CiCONDeck I Laughed Because there were only 3 people in the thearte. Cried becasue ia wasted $7 on it 1 stars
6/26/07 damalc probably a lot better on stage than on screen 3 stars
6/15/07 William Goss Stage adaptation boasts strong performances, even stranger plot developments. 3 stars
6/05/07 kayjay2323 The audience was laughing hysterically. Need I say more? 1 stars
6/05/07 Ian utterly terrible 1 stars
6/02/07 dmitry samarov UGH!!! 2 stars
6/02/07 khkrinzman horrendous, pretentious, banal---the insanity of bug is sitting through the whole thing. 1 stars
5/31/07 Amit well, the movie was pretty good and the acting of stars was good enogh 3 stars
5/30/07 VENKATESH RAO Good Performances 3 stars
5/29/07 Harriett Holmes The explosion was a metaphor for what happened to my $9.00 1 stars
5/27/07 Blizz I agree with Brian. 2 stars
5/27/07 Brian Mckay Good performances, but meh. Two crazy people in a room for 2 hours = tedious 3 stars
5/25/07 RKM Someone get the RAID! Bug sucks!! 1 stars
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  25-May-2007 (R)
  DVD: 25-Sep-2007



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